By Jamie Wiggan
Care home employees refused additional sick pay while recovering from the coronavirus say more could have been done to prevent the deaths of at least seven residents at a Kennedy senior living facility who also contracted the disease.
“I just feel like they’re not handling it well at all and the way they are handling it is not fair to us or the people who live there,” said one The Residence at Willow Lane staffer who asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisal.
According to records published by the facility on Feb. 5, seven residents had by then died from the coronavirus since it flared up in March 2020. At least two more were transferred to “skilled facilities” following COVID-19 diagnoses that left them with long-term complications, according to two employees who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The sources said another resident with a positive diagnosis died during the week beginning Feb. 8, however management for the Willows, part of the Heritage Valley Health System, did not respond to requests to clarify the latest numbers.
Interim Executive Director Shelly Kobuck did confirm there are no current cases, adding that she believes the facility did everything in its power to protect staff and residents from the disease.
“We just had a full survey with [the Pennsylvania Department of Health Services (DHS)] and there were no deficiencies found regarding Covid regulations,” she said.
Acknowledging the numbers are now under control, the employees said it amounts to too little, too late.
“I feel like they’re so uncoordinated and they were so unprepared,” one said.
Specific allegations include establishing a “red zone” for patients with positive diagnoses that required movement through a “yellow zone” for those with possible exposure to the disease but without a positive diagnosis.
“That’s cross-contamination right there,” one employee said.
Another said staff were given consecutive shifts in different zones instead of designating a team to work solely within the red zone.
Responding to the concerns for cross-contamination, Kobuck said, “certain precautions were taken to transport residents through the zones.”
The nursing assistants also complained they’re being stretched thin by social distancing requirements coupled with staff shortages.
They said time for one-on-one care with patients has been slashed by new obligations to serve meals so kitchen staff don’t have to enter patient rooms and risk contamination. Meanwhile, with resident numbers down due to deaths and departures, nursing assistants said their hours have been cut and now have two or less on duty during each shift.
“It’s taking a toll physically, mentally, emotionally – it’s so stressful,” one said.
Kobuck insists staffing numbers “far exceed what’s required.”
Adding to their sense of injustice, all staff were declined additional sick pay to cover absences caused by the virus, according to an undated letter issued by management.
Both sources said they had to use accrued vacation time and regular sick leave but were still short of covering their full 10 days in quarantine when they each caught the disease.
The letter pointed to the terms of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which exempts healthcare industry employees from paid sick leave obligations.
Kobuck said she was surprised to hear morale was low among some staff, saying she had not heard reports of complaints.
Instead, she reserved high praise for all employees.
“We’d like to compliment our staff, they’ve done an excellent job of taking care of our residents,” she said.
The print issue of this story incorrectly suggested paid sick leave was withheld only from non-medical healthcare workers as opposed to all employees of the healthcare industry under the terms of the FFCRA.